Komen Cut To Planned Parenthood 'Mischaracterized'

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has cut off funding to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Many women's health advocates are upset by the decision. The group said the decision was made as part of a broad effort to use donations more efficiently.

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Many women's health advocates are criticizing a decision by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. The foundation cut off funding for breast cancer screenings conducted by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America – Planned Parenthood. Komen says it pulled the money because of a congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood. That move thrust the breast cancer advocacy group into a controversy again. NPR's Rob Stein reports.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: The Komen Foundation is a powerhouse in the world of breast cancer in the United States. It raises billions of dollars for breast cancer research, care and advocacy through its activities. That includes the high-profile Race for the Cure foot races.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, everybody.

CROWD: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is it a great day to be alive?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

STEIN: Komen's fundraising pink ribbons can sometimes seem like they're everywhere - showing up in football stadiums, on cars, perfume, and dozens of other products being sold by companies to raise money for breast cancer research.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: In the coming weeks and months, you may notice something a little different about Eggland's Best eggs. Eggland's Best will proudly be displaying its support for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

STEIN: That's made Komen a hero among many women, and a major player in the fight against breast cancer. Here's Susan Wood of George Washington University.

SUSAN WOOD: In the breast cancer world, they're huge. They raise lots of money for breast cancer research, and access to mammography, and access to other breast cancer screening and breast health activities.

STEIN: But Komen's been at odds before with other advocates and breast cancer experts, sometimes over big, high-profile issues. Cindy Pearson is with the National Women's Health Network.

CINDY PEARSON: In the past, they've let women down by insisting that the FDA should continue to approve Avastin as an effective treatment for breast cancer, when new evidence - sadly - showed that it's not. They've also insisted that guidelines for breast cancer screening start at a young age and be very frequent, when evidence shows that it's not that much of a slam dunk anymore.

STEIN: Now, the latest controversy apparently started last month. An evangelical Christian group called Lifeway was selling pink Bibles for Komen, but Lifeway discovered Komen was giving Planned Parenthood money. Here's Amy Black, a political scientist at Wheaton College near Chicago. She studies evangelical Christians.

AMY BLACK: As soon as people figured out the link between Komen and Planned Parenthood - that there was a funding link there - Lifeway pulled all of the Bibles off the shelves; stopped selling them immediately. This is the kind of thing that captured a lot of activists' attention.

STEIN: And some critics speculate that Komen was particularly susceptible to pressure from activists because of the political ties of Nancy Brinker. She founded and heads Komen. Here's Judy Norsigian of "Our Bodies Ourselves," a popular women's health guide.

JUDY NORSIGIAN: One of the things that many women don't understand is that the founder of Komen, Nancy Brinker, has had a longstanding and supportive relationship with the Bush family, with the Bush presidencies, with the Republican Party, and on many occasions has supported policies that most supporters of Komen probably wouldn't approve of.

STEIN: Critics have also pointed out that Komen recently hired a politician from Georgia who opposes abortion. She's a new vice president at Komen. Now, it remains unclear how the move will affect Komen in the long term. Here's political scientists Amy Black again.

BLACK: To continue a partnership with Planned Parenthood would have significant political consequences that would harm them. To end the partnership with Planned Parenthood would have significant political consequences that also would cause harm - because one side or the other is not going to be happy, whatever the Komen Foundation decides to do.

STEIN: Komen did not respond to NPR's request for an interview, but the foundation posted a statement and video late Wednesday. Komen said its actions had been mischaracterized, and so it wanted to set the record straight. Komen's Nancy Brinker said in the video that the decision was made as part of a broad effort to use donations more efficiently.

Brinker said Komen regretted the impact of its new policy on groups such as Planned Parenthood. But she denied politics played any role, and called accusations against Komen scurrilous and a dangerous distraction from the battle against breast cancer.

Rob Stein, NPR News.

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